The West Chester University Office of Sustainability and the WC Green Team jointly organized 4 virtual events this fall. We are grateful to Brad Flamm (director) and Amy Maxcy (office administrator) of the Office of Sustainability for all their work and also to Asst. Prof. of Organizational Communications Megan Schraedley’s Com 398 students, who led the organizing and publicity for the last 3 events.
1) September 11th panel discussion starting from the film “The Story of Plastic”
The film gives a horrifying view of how the plastics industry, an offshoot of the fossil fuel industry, has despoiled the planet and led the public to believe that recycling plastic is a viable enterprise, when in fact the only solution is to pare back our use of plastics to purposes for which it is truly essential.
Many joined in the discussion: moderator Brad Flamm, Director of the WCU Office of Sustainability; Asst. Prof. of Biology Jen Maresh (who talked about finding microplastics even at great ocean depths in the midst of the Pacific), students and community members.
The WCU Zero Waste Committee and student activists have been working to reduce all sorts of waste on campus, focusing on styrofoam and plastic bags. We should be talking about not 3 but 5 R’s: Refuse / Reduce / Reuse / Recycle / Rot (and more: Refill). In municipal recycling, only aluminum cans, and not plastic, have any real value. We are not paying the true costs of plastic packaging, as disposal and environmental “externalities” are concealed in the ease of purchasing products, including in vending machines. In fact, by paying for recycling, trash, and clean-up costs, the taxpayers are subsidizing plastic manufacturing and consumption.
West Chester Borough’s plan to ban single-use plastic bags and straws is on hold due to Covid-19 and opposition from the PA legislature, but a voluntary and educational phase is underway. Seventy years ago plastic didn’t even exist and people survived without it! What can be done on campus? One of many ideas: encourage RA’s to feature plastics reduction in their programming for residents.
2) October 16 panel on Water Quality
This very interesting discussion moderated by Gillian Alicea unfortunately is not available on podcast due to technical problems. Panelists were Joanne Stanton, co-director of the Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water; Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network; and entomologist John Jackson, senior research scientist at the Stroud Water Research Center.
Some lessons: Soil and water contamination from PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) exemplifies the problem, as from firefighting foam used in military bases such as the former Naval Air Development Center in Warminster PA. This large group of man-made “forever chemicals,” which are not among the 90 nationally required to be tested for in water, likely cause brain tumors in children and also threaten all of us, including military personnel. Neither US nor PA law protects us from PFAS (found also in Teflon), which linger in the environment without known remedy. Corporations need to stop taking advantage of natural resources without facing the damages.
Diversity of life shows the health of streams; impaired streams, including 1/4 of Chesco waterways, have lost 75+% of their sensitive species, reflecting also soil degradation in drainage areas.. The harm could be reduced by less use of artificial fertilizers, more run-off buffers, and less hi-tech bias in agriculture schools. Other water issues that we may not think of enough are: warming due to power plants and climate change; salt from excessive applications in winter weather (the US applies about 400 lb per person; some streams here have become almost as salty as ocean water; bridges and vehicles are also corroded); toxics released by asphalt sealants. Even one careless person or municipality can damage a whole stream’s quality downstream.
3) November 13 panel on the film Woman at War and awards
You can view online this inspiring event moderated by Megan Schraedley, including videos from the 8 local women awardees who exemplify leadership in sustainable practices. The program included community discussion and musical interludes by WCU cellist and composer Ovidio Marinescu. An evening for positivity, as Megan said, well worth viewing and inspirational! A variety of contributions to local sustainability were contributed by the speakers, in order:
Malena Martinez – Owner of Malena’s Vintage Boutique, West Chester
Maria Urrutia – Faculty, Theatre and Dance, WCU (and colleagues)
Gabrielle Long – MA graduate in Geography at WCU
Paige Vermeulen – Undergraduate student in Ecology and Geology at WCU
Debbie Bookman – Chester County Prothonotary
Dianne Herrin – Mayor of West Chester
Danielle Friel Otten – Representative, PA House 155th district
Keyana Cellucci – Owner, Velvet Hair Salon, West Chester
4) Local sustainability activism on December 11
Our last forum of the season, moderated by Com 398 student Bobby Carlson, featured 4 local panelists showing what campus and community groups can do to promote sustainability and environmental empowerment.
Open space advocate Ken Hemphill presented his very effective 5-minute video The Battle for Crebilly Farm, advocating preservation of a long-standing family farm south of West Chester threatened by development by Toll Brothers, even though it saw military action in the largest battle of the American Revolution and our first 9/11, the Battle of Brandywine on Sept. 11, 1777. Ironically, Ken said, the US government insists that foreign governments preserve land where Americans died in battle, but has no such requirement in the US. Pennsylvania Act 319, which allows land owners to preserve land in exchange for tax exoneration, requires a very inadequate 7-year back tax payment in order to sell the land for development.
In another current case, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has held a wooded property in Delaware County, untaxed for a century, that it now also wants to sell to developers, even though the County should make the land into a sorely needed public park. (For breaking news on this site, see here.)
Courtney Finneran (WCU ’99) described the work of the West Chester Tree Team, which brought together about 50 Borough residents last year to reinforce the Urban Forester’s mission of seeing that street trees are maintained and, as needed, replaced. Trees are recognized as enhancements to environmental quality and everyday life, as seen for example in resident support for Everhart Park and Marshall Square Park. The Borough now pays half the cost of street tree removal, though abutting property owners must replace a removed tree. Property owners also receive a Stream Protection Fee abatement for heritage trees of certain species and a certain size. In a good example of resident/Borough cooperation, unlicensed removal of street trees was prevented earlier this year.
WCU student Elizabeth Schultz spoke about the campus gardens, in which she has worked for 4 years. The largest producer is the South Campus garden, which donates vegetables to the WCU Resource Pantry for students in need and also to the West Chester Food Cupboard. The WCU gardens both generate and need compost.
Recent WCU graduate Emily Rodden and current student Alex Davis described the work of Sunrise, a decentralized national youth movement to cut climate change and create jobs. The West Chester hub, founded in 2017, has promoted the Climate Strike, the Green New Deal, and political engagement by the young; it plans to endorse candidates in 2020-21 and encourage office holders to refuse fossil fuel $.
Discussion followed, including about problems with storm water drainage on campus and initiatives we hope lie ahead in 2021.